Wake Schools proposed delays fewer than expected

Technology, furniture, equipment projects more likely to suffer
October 28, 2008 3:43:02 PM PDT
In another indication of how the national economy's day-to-day shifts are affecting Wake County funding plans, the school system staff is proposing the county move ahead with most school construction and renovation projects after all.

Wake County hasn't been able to sell all the bonds it had planned on because of the credit freeze, and it was believed Wake Schools would have to delay several construction projects as a result.

"The information before you today is much less daunting than it was a week ago," Superintendent Del Burns told the Wake County School Board at its meeting Tuesday afternoon.

School and county leaders will draw on $80 million in cash reserves and put off purchases of other items rather than delaying most construction projects. Items whose purchases will be delayed include replacing old furniture at schools across the county.

Replacing large items like school roofs and heating and air conditioning systems will also be delayed. In the past, items like that are replaced on a life-cycle basis, meaning, for example, that a roof might be replaced every 15 years.

To put off spending money it doesn't have, the system will now wait until items like a roof or HVAC system absolutely need to be replaced before buying new ones.

The change in strategy -- using the cash and continuing with building and renovations while delaying other purchases -- was agreed to by both school system staff and Wake County staff in a series of meetings over the past week.

Proponents argue using the $80 million in cash now is the best way to keep projects moving during this tough economic time, when borrowing money is more difficult than it has been in years.

"I know a week ago it was pretty gloomy, and today it's better, it's not great, and will have a better impact on our students, we hope," said Don Haydon, the school system's chief facilities and operations officer.

The $1.056 billion school bond approved by voters in 2006 was made up of $970 million in bonds and $86 million in cash reserves. It was always assumed that $86 million would be used at the end of the bond projects; now, $80 million of that will be used now, earlier in the bond program.

Not all projects will continue on schedule. It appears that an elementary school planned to open in 2010 in southeast Raleigh may be delayed. Renovations planned for Wilburn Elementary in Raleigh may be pushed back, too.

And the purchase of land for a new high school set to open in 2012 in Apex could be stalled. Staff may also recommend more delays ? but the number of projects affected is less than anticipated.

The school system will also keep in place its plan for a multi-year student assignment. Just last week, it appeared plans for three-year assignment would be scrapped because of uncertainty about when schools would be built and opened.

Staff is now proposing to use a multi-year plan, with "the second and third years contingent upon sufficient capital funding," according to a copy of a report to be delivered at Tuesday's board meeting.


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